Defendants and certain plaintiffs in the FEMA TRAILER FORMALDEHYDE PRODUCTS LIABILITY LITIGATION, MDL NO. 07-1873(E.D. La.) have filed a joint motion seeking approval of a partial settlement of the litigation.

Readers may recall from our previous posts that plaintiffs had filed claims against the United States and several manufacturers alleging that they were exposed to high levels of formaldehyde contained in emergency housing provided to them by FEMA in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The plaintiffs proposed litigating the claims in six subclasses, including four subclasses for residents divided by state (Louisiana, Alabama, Texas, and Mississippi), a medical monitoring (“future medical services”) subclass, and an economic loss subclass. The court denied the personal injury class, and then the medical monitoring class. The court then adopted a bellwether trial approach. We posted on the federal jury in Louisiana returning a defense verdict in just such a bellwether plaintiffs' suit over alleged exposure to formaldehyde fumes while living for several months in a FEMA-provided trailer. Indeed, all three bellwether trials have resulted in losses for plaintiffs. There are currently two appeals pending from previous bellwether trial verdicts. The MDL court also found last year that FEMA itself could not be held liable for the alleged formaldehyde in the trailers.  

Now, several maker of the emergency mobile homes used after hurricanes Katrina and Rita have agreed to pay approximately $2.6 million to settle certain claims that plaintiffs were allegedly sickened by levels of formaldehyde in the homes. The proposed settlement covers FEMA mobile homes issued to victims of the hurricanes, not the travel trailers, which actually formed the majority of emergency housing made available after the hurricanes.

Under the proposed settlement, a whopping 48% of that total will be set aside for plaintiff attorneys' fees. According to the settlement agreement, the size of the potential settlement class is more than 1,000. In addition to the trial results, the joint motion makes reference to the MDL court ruling that precluded plaintiffs from arguing for liability under varied (and higher) state standards, rather than a uniform federal level.